The future of our farming andfood sectors is in safe hands

This was a tremendous achievement for both the students involved and the school having competed against four other finalist schools for the title.

Significantly, all the members of the winning team are looking forward to a career within the farming and food sectors.

So without further ado let’s get the names of the victorious quintet out into the public domain. They are: Tori Robson, from Augher; Allister Crawford, from Augher; James Fleming, from Newtownstewart; Jill Liggett, from Clogher and Joshua Keys, also from Clogher.

28/10/21 McAuley Multimedia REPRO FREE..Education Minister Michelle McIlveen congratulates pupils from Omagh Academy, the overall winners of the ABP Angus Youth Challenge class of 2020, James Fleming, Tori Robson, Joshua Keys, Jill Liggett and Allister Crawford. Also included are Charles Smith from the Angus Producer group and George Mullan MD ABP NI.Pic Steven McAuley/McAuley Multimedia

Each of the five has a strong family farming background: Tori and Jill are in their ‘A’ Level year with Allister, James and Joshua ‘looking forward’ to their ‘AS’ Level exams next May and June.

Their accolade as Overall Winners marks the end of an 18-month journey – starting out with 20 plus other schools from across Northern Ireland to then reach the final stage along with four other schools.

And it’s not over yet, as the coming weeks will see them wrap-up the final management phase of the five Angus-cross cattle, which they received as weanlings upon qualifying for the final stages of the competition.

ABP will make available the monies generated by the cattle at processing to the team members. This adds to the £1,000 already presented to Omagh Academy by the company to mark the school’s total support for the winning team.

Ruth Maxwell (left) Principal of Omagh Academy and ABP’s Stuart Cromie (right) congratulate the members of the wining team from the school that swept the boards in the 2020 ABP Angus Youth Challenge: Allister Crawford, Jill Liggett, Joshua Keys, Tori Robson and James Fleming. Also featured is geography and agriculture teacher Adele Lennox (centre), who assisted with the coordination of the project

But behind every good team of students, there is an equally talented co-ordinating teacher. And in the case of the Co Tyrone team this person is Adele Lennox.

As Adele immediately pointed out the initial idea to take part in the Youth Challenge did not come from the teaching staff at the school but rather from the students themselves.

She explained:“The group of five came to me in October 2019 and suggested that they would like to enter the competition as a combined team.

“I agreed and we immediately set about coming up with an overall theme for our submission.

ABP Angus Challenge finalists at Loughry College, Cookstown. Picture: Cliff Donaldson

“We settled on the strap line ‘Best in the West’.

“The word BEST was also used an acronym with ‘B’ standing for best beef production, ‘E’ referencing the significance of environmental production systems, ‘S’ highlighting the need for beef to be produced on a sustainable basis from farm to fork and ‘T’ in terms of tasting the end result.”

Adele continued:“We then came up with a chart to show what the rearing of calves through to beef would involve.

“An accompanying video was produced by the team themselves with all the elements of the submission then brought together and submitted to the competition organisers.”

ABP Angus Challenge finalists at Loughry College, Cookstown. Picture: Cliff Donaldson

On the strength of this initial submission the Omagh team was then shortlisted for the quarter finals of the award scheme, the semi final and subsequently the final itself, which saw Omagh competing against four other schools.

James Fleming takes up the story:“The quarter finals were based around an interview process. At the semi final stage we were required to develop a display of the work that we had completed up to that point. This included a presentation video, which we had specifically prepared for the event.

“At the finals’ stage, we were presented with the five calves and asked to develop our concluding presentation.”

Adele Lennox again:“Upon receipt of the calves we were assigned a topic around which to base our final submission. The overarching theme was: A low carbon beef brand for Northern Ireland.”

The final stages of the competition provided the Omagh team with an opportunity to visit a selection of the best beef farms in Northern Ireland. They also sought to interface with consumers to find out the public’s views on what they like and don’t like about beef.

“All the farm visits were amazing,” confirmed Adele.

“Each one provided the members of the team with a different perspective on how it will be possible to lower the carbon footprint of beef production in the future.

“The consumer survey confirmed the demand for beef that is out there and also the fact that the vast majority of people here are very keen to support their local butcher.”

One of the most significant aspects to the work put in by the Omagh Academy team, courtesy of the competition, was the fact that almost all of it took place during the Covid 19 lockdown.

The group had very few opportunities to meet together and discuss the development of their submission face-to-face. A lot of work was agreed, and undertaken, courtesy of Zoom meetings.

While not part of the final submission process, all the members of the Omagh team agreed that having the opportunity to rear the five Aberdeen Angus cattle represented a tremendous bonding exercise for them all.

The autumn of last year marked their arrival at the Robson farm on the outskirts of Augher.

“They were housed immediately and put on the feeding plan supplied to us by ABP,” Tori explained.

“We keep beef cattle at home, so they fitted in well. Everyone within the team took a tremendous interest in the animals from the get-go. We were also able to access all the management and veterinary advice that we needed with the aim of ensuring that the animals nutritional and welfare needs were met at all times.”

The start of this year’s grazing season saw the cattle moved to the neighbouring farm of Crawford family.

“Grass will be always be a fundamental driver of beef production systems,” Allister Crawford explained.

“Again we adhered to the management plan given to us by ABP. The group of five cattle is made up of three steers and two heifers.

“They were re-housed a couple of weeks ago. But for most of the grazing season, they were mixed with a number of sheep that we keep at home. And this approach worked very well.”

Allister also confirmed that the cattle were weighed on a regular basis.

He said:“The cattle performed very well while at grass. They are averaging 600 kilos at the present time. During the months of August and September, they were averaging 1.74 kilos of live weight gain per day, so it will be interesting to see how they actually kill out in a few weeks’ time.”

Meanwhile, news of the successes being achieved by the Omagh team was starting to make ‘real news’ around the Academy, with both students and staff in equal measure.

“The tremendous work put in by the members of the team has put agriculture on the map as a subject taught at the school,” confirmed Adele Lennox.

“We also run a Grass Roots Farming Club. And the membership of it has really taken off over recent months, again on the back of the successes achieved courtesy of the ABP Angus Youth Challenge.

Video has been used more than effectively as a means of marking the progress made by the Omagh team over the past two years. At least 10 productions now feature prominently on the team’s bespoke Facebook page: Omagh Academy Angus Youth Challenge.

All of the videos were filmed and edited by the team members using their phones and help with additional equipment and media training provided by ABP as part of their skills development programme.

The Omagh team members are all very grateful for the support received from their CAFRE mentor: Gareth Beacom.

“There was a lot of science involved in the preparation of the final presentation,” Tori Robson confirmed.

“We were able to balance this with a very strong perspective regarding what consumers want from the beef and beef products they eat.”

So what are the key principles which will help deliver a low carbon future for Northern Ireland beef industry.

“Making best use of grass will be critically important,” James Fleming confirmed.

“Nutrition will also be important as will the need to make best use of the nutrients produced on farm, including slurries. The use of low emission spreading systems will make a real difference in this regard.”

Jill Liggett confirmed the use of using improved genetics on farms while also maximising outputs in the most sustainable way possible.

She highlighted the very strong consumer focus contained within the final submission made by the team.

“Farmers must take full account of what the final customer wants when it comes to them buying beef and beef products,” she said.

Based on her experience of the past two years Jill is now keen to follow a career with the animal nutrition sector. James Fleming is also keen on securing a third level qualification in agriculture, leaving him with the choice of finding a career in agriculture or coming home to farm.

Joshua Keys has a very strong pig farming background.

“But we also keep suckler cows at home and then buy-in heifer calves for finishing,” he further explained.

“The biggest take home message for me, coming out of the project, was the perspective it gives on the entire beef production process, from farm to fork.

“A lot of this was based around of the management systems that we followed with the cattle. Our meal supplier, for example, has been Gortavoy Feeds.

“A visit to the mill gave us an excellent insight into the production of the various rations produced by the company.

“The fact that the electricity used at the site is produced exclusively from wind energy added to the low carbon aspect of our overall project.”

Joshua, too, intends following a career pathway within the farming and food sectors.

All of this will come as sweet music to the ears of ABP’s Managing Director for Northern Ireland, George Mullan.

He views the Aberdeen Angus Youth Challenge – now in its fifth year- as a means of encouraging the teams taking part to demonstrate a unique mix of business acumen, innovation and flair.

Mullan explained:“The Angus Youth Challenge has been a tremendous success. Interest from schools wanting to participate has grown in spite of the pandemic.”

He added:“From the very outset, ABP recognised the value of the scheme to promote the potential for young people to get actively involved in production agriculture and the food processing industry.

“The scope of the career opportunities within both sectors continues to expand. The Angus Youth Challenge is also informing young consumers about the value of beef in a balanced diet.

“We introduced the ABP Angus Youth Challenge so that young people could gain skills and a practical experience of our sector.

“Notwithstanding the pandemic, we were determined that the ABP Angus Youth Challenge would continue to nurture the skills and experience necessary for the world of work.”

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